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Were two Muslim women in east London run over because they were wearing hijabs?

<span>Two out of three incidences of Islamophobia are aimed at Muslim women.</span><span>Photograph: MBI/Alamy</span>
Two out of three incidences of Islamophobia are aimed at Muslim women.Photograph: MBI/Alamy

The driver was said to have slowed down to let Misbah Sadique, 37, and her friend Kulsum, cross the road. They were close to home in Waltham Forest and felt safe in a part of east London that they knew well. But, as they stepped out, the car in front of them suddenly, inexplicably, accelerated, one of the women later alleged.

It is said that Kulsum was thrown to the ground by the force of the impact and that Misbah was dragged under the vehicle. She claims she was lucky to escape with breaks to her right ankle and foot, ribs and right arm, on top of extensive bruising and abrasions. Three weeks later, she remains in hospital, traumatised and facing a long road to recovery.

The driver, who did not leave the scene, gave a statement by the side of the road and the police have categorised what happened as a road traffic incident. No arrests were made.

But Misbah and Kulsum had both been wearing hijabs. Misbah, who has given a statement to the police in recent days, is calling, with the support of her family and the charity, The Islamophobia Response Unit, for the incident on 1 February to be further investigated as a potential hate crime.

“The immense emotional distress and trauma [of the incident] was made worse as we felt the people who were supposed to protect us and make us feel safe were disregarding their duty of care to us,” said Nazia Tayyib, a cousin of Misbah’s, speaking on her behalf.

The Met said officers did open a hate crime investigation in response to concerns raised with them. “However, our investigation – including viewing of CCTV – leads us to believe that the women were not in any way deliberately targeted,” said Ch Supt Simon Crick, who is in charge of policing Waltham Forest. “This was an unfortunate road traffic collision.”

The police said they had asked specialists to review the case as well but that they had come to the same conclusion. But that Misbah should consider someone capable of running her down purely due to her faith might be in itself be regarded as a damning insight into modern Britain. Anti-racism campaigners within the Muslim community say people are feeling vulnerable and faith in the authorities is at a dangerously low ebb. Should the outlook of these two terrified young women really come as a surprise, it is asked?

The Tell Mama charity has documented 2,010 Islamophobic incidents in the UK since 7 October, when Hamas’s murderous attack triggered the war with Israel. This compares with 600 such incidents in the same period in the previous year.

Muslim women were targeted in two out of every three incidents recorded.

Shaista Gohir, leader of the Muslim Women’s Network, said the impact of Islamophobia could be particularly acute for women.

“Because of the negativity around Islam and faith, there’s this perception amongst the public, which is a narrative that’s been kind of reinforced by politicians and also media as well, that Muslim women are kind of oppressed and forced to cover up,” she said. “It seems it’s actually OK to become acceptable now, to say very negative things about Muslims, even if you’re a public figure … When it comes to Islamophobia, there is a tolerance to it, that there is no such thing as zero tolerance. That doesn’t apply to us.”

Indeed, the evidence of a sudden rise in incidents only adds to the huge body of work over the years that has documented a creeping acceptance in the UK of hostility towards people of Muslim faith.

As early as 2011, the then chairman of the Conservative party, Sayeeda Warsi, the first Muslim woman to attend cabinet, had warned that prejudice against Muslims had become normalised, “passing the dinner table test”.

The former deputy chairman of the Conservative party Lee Anderson lost the Tory whip this week, not for the substance of his comments but for failing to apologise for “wrongly” claiming that the mayor of London, Sadiq Khan, the first Muslim leader of the capital, was under the power of Islamists.

Related: Sunak, his media allies – maybe even Lee Anderson – know Sadiq Khan is no Islamist. This is tactical racism | Archie Bland

With cabinet ministers refusing to describe his comments as racist, Anderson doubled down on his claims on Monday, telling GB News “when you think you are right, you should never apologise because to do so would be a sign of weakness”.

The war between Israel and Gaza is said by those experiencing the abuse to have only further legitimised, in the eyes of some, the espousing of long-held views about the Muslim community.

On Monday, a coalition of civil society organisations, including Islamic Relief UK, the Fawcett Society and Hope Not Hate, known as the Anti-Islamophobia Working Group, wrote to the prime minister, Rishi Sunak, to express their alarm at the lack of response to the claim from Suella Braverman, the former home secretary, in the Daily Telegraph that the “Islamists, the extremists and the antisemites are in charge now”.

“As prime minister it is your duty to safeguard all communities, no matter their race or religion”, they demanded.

Majid Iqbal, chief executive of the the Islamophobia Response Unit (IRU), which seeks to help victims bring cases to the police, said they had recorded a 365% increase in cases crossing their desk since October with “lots of incidents of Islamophobia on public transport [directed at] individuals who’ve attended protests, just generally in the street, and in their everyday life”.

On Monday morning, the charity received an email typical of its sort. “I’m sick and tired of you lot moaning about racism when YOU are the problem,” wrote ‘Marie Conway’. “This war has NOTHING to do with the UK, OUR country, you are racist against Jewish people who’ve lived here peacefully until you came here. You are NOT welcome or wanted here. We will pay for your airfare home. So instead of being cowards, you can go and fight for your beliefs. If not shut up. As the true English people like myself don’t care about you.”

Mohammed Kozbar, general secretary of the Finsbury Park mosque, which was subject to a terrorist attack on 2017, which killed one man and left 12 injured, said he had reported a number of incidents to the police since October.

He said: “We’ve seen people standing outside the mosque shouting in an Islamophobic and racist way, attacking the community. We’ve seen offensive emails as well attacking the community, talking about the faith itself, the prophet, the Qur’an. So it’s about dehumanising the Muslim community.

“We hope that the police get to the bottom of it but from our experience, to be honest, most of the cases, I’m talking about probably 99% of the cases, nothing has been done about it and that’s an issue which the police needs to deal with.”

Kamran Hussain, chief executive of the British Muslim Heritage Centre in Manchester, said he was concerned by the rhetoric used by some media outlets and by prominent politicians. His organisation is now training up staff to provide a “hate crime” reporting service.

Mohammed Saeed, chair of trustees at the Green Lane mosque, in Birmingham, the country’s largest, said they were also in regular contact with West Midlands police but that leadership from Downing Street was now required. “We continuously receive Islamophobic hate,” Saeed said. “Support is needed from our government in these challenging times.”